Columns, Divine Politik, Opinion

Divine Politik: Leftism and Catholicism can and should coexist 

As I write this, it is midway through Holy Week, the most sacred time of the year for practicing Christians. During this week, we reflect on the Paschal Mystery — the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who we believe is the Son of God. 

We also meditate on our own mortality, our conscience and our lives as people of faith. Throughout my meditations this week, I have been provoked to again consider how I reconcile my spiritual beliefs with my political beliefs, both personally and generally. 

 To be both progressive and Catholic is often seen as an oxymoron, particularly considering the better-known Christian nationalism of many on the religious right. And for quite some time, I also struggled with this, worried that to hold on to my religious traditions was to besmirch my political character. I worried I was inherently oppressive for living as a Christian. 

After all, Christians have perpetuated innumerable harms against marginalized communities — religious colonization, Indigenous boarding schools and abuse against children come to mind — and as a leftist, I felt as though these evils outweighed any good my religion offered to the world. 

Before I continue, I find it imperative to affirm that there is no excuse for the aforementioned bigotry, cruelty and hatred. No apology will ever suffice in terms of the harm Christianity has inflicted, and often still inflicts, upon so many innocent people. But still, I am so, so sorry. 

In efforts to assuage my internal conflict, I began to do research, and was very pleasantly surprised to find a trove of literature regarding progressive Christianity — Catholicism in particular. Because so many Catholic institutions are devoted to ancient, patriarchal and repressive traditions, I had never heard many of these left-wing names or theologies, even though I went to Catholic school my entire life. But they existed, in droves, and allowed me to see how leftist ideology and a Christian identity are not at all in opposition. They actually work far better in conjunction with each other. 

Take Dorothy Day, a socialist, feminist and anti-war activist who founded the Catholic Worker Movement — a pacifist collective that engages in mutual aid and civil disobedience in support of the poor and marginalized.

Or the Berrigan brothers, two Jesuit priests who worked in tandem with the Trappist monk Thomas Merton to protest the Vietnam War and nuclear warfare, spending years in jail for their protests — which included burning draft documents and pouring human blood on nuclear equipment. Father Daniel Berrigan, one of the brothers, was also a prominent activist in support of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.  

Smaran Ramidi / DFP Staff

Or perhaps Leonardo Boff, one of the main supporters of liberation theology — a community of Catholics who preach a Marxist gospel that upholds the revolutionary nature of Jesus Christ and works to liberate the oppressed proletariat and diminish the power of the rich. 

More famously, Father James Martin — a Jesuit priest who is well-known even in secular circles — is an avid and vocal supporter of the LGBTQ+ community, especially in terms of their acceptance and well-being within the Catholic Church. Concurrently, Catholic Sister Helen Prejean works tirelessly to exonerate death row prisoners, dedicating her life to ending the death penalty and working as a spiritual adviser to those prisoners who will not be saved.

These are isolated examples, of course, but they do highlight an undercurrent of progressive politics and theology that is alive and well in the Catholic faith. Even our Sacred Scripture is far less conservative than fundamentalists would admit. Within the pages of the Bible, women lead revolutions, sex workers and men on death row are honored and valued, a poor brown girl bears and mothers the Savior of the World, a lowly shepherd boy and the son of a king are lovers, slaves are freed, leaders are shamed and humans are called to steward and serve the earth — not the other way around.  

The Bible is a rich tapestry of diverse, messy, complicated human beings, most prominently members of oppressed groups. The ancient humans in this text make mistakes, try to do good and constantly seek the Divine — no better, no worse and no different than human beings now. Considering this interpretation, leftism is the only biblically-sound political theory that ever made sense to me, as it is the only system that consistently supports the oppressed, advocates peace and mercy and fights for the marginalized. 

Pacifism, feminism, liberation, equality, inclusion, justice and love encompass what Catholicism is to me and many others. Simultaneously, these are the values that my political ideology stems from. So as Holy Week winds to a close and we usher in the joyous Easter season, I finally feel peace between my spiritual and temporal beliefs, anchored by the rich tradition of radically progressive ancestors and theologies — albeit somewhat hidden — of my faith. 


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